The Secret to Overcoming Any Fear

This post is an excerpt from my friend Ken Coleman’s new book, One Question: Life-Changing Answers from Today’s Leading Voices. This chapter is based on an interview he did with me. You follow Ken here on Twitter.

The name Walt Disney World conjures up words such as “wonder” and “imagination.” For most people, the renowned theme park’s moniker rarely summons up bone-rattling, tear-inducing fear. But my son Ty had a different experience during a recent family vacation to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

From the moment we stepped onto the property, my family was met with all the pageantry for which Disney is famous. The five hundred-acre amusement park is home to seventeen hundred exotic animals. Iguanas sunbathe on rocks, giraffes strut along savannas, and macaws showcase their neon feathers from perches just beyond one’s fingertips. From the fanciful to the mighty, this Floridian wonderland is a kid’s dream.

As with other Disney properties, the directory located near the entrance is dotted with attractions. Only a few steps in, a particular marker caught Ty’s attention: Kali River Rapids. Contrary to its threatening name, the water ride is an opportunity for weary parents to put up their feet and exhale. A twelve-passenger circular raft winds down a picturesque river with jasmine-scented mists and majestic waterfalls. If you don’t mind getting wet, this ride is not to be missed, and Ty made sure we wouldn’t forget by reminding us about it every few steps we took.

Arriving at the entrance, I made sure my son met the height requirement, and we began the five-minute walk to the loading area. As we strode along, Ty’s countenance changed from excitement to malaise to suspicion to outright anxiety. Stepping up to the turntable that places visitors in rafts, his emotional dam broke. Tears poured from his eyes as he pleaded passionately to leave.

I knelt down and reasoned with him, something every dad attempts in such a situation even though he knows it’s futile. I explained that the ride wouldn’t scare him and that if he could just muster the courage to step into the boat, he’d be glad he did. A few minutes after launching into my monologue, we were trek-king back to the attraction’s entrance, serenaded by my son’s relieved sniffles.

Just as we entered the common area, a second transformation happened. When Ty’s little brother, Chase, proclaimed his desire to take on the rapids, Ty was suddenly convinced that he had made the wrong decision. He wanted to return to the Kali River Rapids turntable once more. My frustration over the whole ordeal had risen to boiling, but it was dwarfed by my own desire to experience the ride. So after a third five-minute walk, we were finally floating through the Asian-style jungle together.

I looked over at Ty after a few minutes and saw his characteristic smile, the one that never fails to melt me. He reached over, gripped my hand, and shouted, “Dad, I love it! It isn’t scary at all … thanks!” Suddenly, I was the one who was being transformed—from the emotionally and physically drained father to the proud daddy. Despite the hassle of the ordeal, I knew Ty had experienced something profound, a lesson he could never receive through lectures or logic: he’d discovered how to conquer his fear.

The image of my smiling son was in the front of my mind when I drafted an interview question for Michael Hyatt. He is the [former] chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, one of the largest book publishers in the United States. Highly respected among his peers and widely sought after for his leadership advice, Hyatt speaks often about how he’s had to push through fear in order to achieve great accomplishments in his life.

I wanted to know what his experiences could teach the rest of us who often find ourselves stopped dead in our tracks, begging to walk back the way we came.

Ken Coleman: Many times in life, people don’t go after what’s on their hearts because of fear. How can we conquer fear?

Michael Hyatt: Fear is the number one obstacle that most people face in their lives. Very few people talk about it, but I can guarantee you it’s the biggest thing I face in my own heart. There have been times when I have lain awake at night wondering, particularly in this economy, “What’s going to happen to me? What’s going to happen to my company? What’s going to happen to my family?” Fear is a very debilitating thing. It doesn’t serve many useful purposes, and people can get really stuck in it.

When I’m afraid, I have a practice of walking right into my fears rather than away from them. If people can get used to that, their fear will dissipate. Most of the power of fear is in your mind; it doesn’t really exist. It’s just this idea that looms because we are unwilling to face it. But the way to declaw it, the way to defuse it, is to step into it—right into the middle of it—and do the thing that you are afraid to do.

How many times do we find ourselves frozen by fear? Our hearts palpitate, our eyes search frantically for an exit, and soon we’re paralyzed by trepidation. At moments when we need to lunge forward, our feet plant as though in cement.

Fear takes many forms. I find myself arrested by the fear of criticism. I fear looking back on my life and discovering wasted opportunities or unrealized potential. A great worry for me is that I will have lived life but never made a difference. Maybe you are a perfectionist and battle the fear of failure. Or you’re shy and stave off the fear of success. Whatever brand of fear you experience, the emotion can be debilitating.

Hyatt is right; fear lives mostly in our minds and festers as long as we fail to face it. Children, for example, often convince themselves that something is under their bed. The fear may not be rational, but it can cause much distress. Yet the emotion remains only as long as the child lies motionless in the dark. Once he or she looks under the bed and finds nothing, the panic dissipates.

Likewise, Ty didn’t have a real fear that memorable afternoon at Disney. I am his father, and he trusts me. He knows I wouldn’t endanger him physically or emotionally. But he still felt afraid, and facing that emotion was the only way to chase it away. What my son learned as a six-year-old, many of us need to learn at twenty-six or fifty-six: that fear can protect us from danger—but it can also keep us from life’s great adventures.

One Question is based on Ken’s popular blog, “One Question with Ken Coleman,” where well-known figures are asked one, solitary question. Drawing readers in with never-before-published interviews, this book delivers inspirational and applicable life lessons that can be digested in a matter of minutes.

I gave away 50 copies of One Question. To qualify, my readers had to comment below. You can find the list of winners here.

Question: What appeals to you about this book and why do you want a copy?